Whether you're at work, an exercise class, or a networking event, it's normal to have an appropriate amount of touching occur.
For example, shaking hands, an arm around the shoulder or waist for a photo opportunity, a welcoming kiss on the cheek, or a hands-on adjustment during a workout class seem completely normal.
But, what happens when you feel like the appropriate touching has crossed the line?
Do you tell the person they are being inappropriate and that you feel uncomfortable? Or, do you just go on like it's not a big deal?
For example, you might remember a little while ago when Vice President Joe Bidden
was criticized for being overly touchy-feely towards Stephanie Carter, as her husband, Ash Carter, was being sworn in as Secretary of Defense. He has been known as a touchy-feely person, as this isn't the first time he's been a bit over-the-top.
This can be a blurred line, as some people are just overly friendly and don't see any harm in touching your arm, leg or back while speaking.
The truth is, most people know what's crossing the line at work. However, some people have a different tolerance for what kind of touching is acceptable. Some people have a larger personal space than what you may have.
Gail Gross, PhD, EdD, shares what kind of touching is inappropriate and what kind is appropriate, as well as how to talk to a touchy-feely person.
RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: March 26, 2015
Hosts: Michelle King Robson and Pam Peeke, MD
Dr. Pam Peeke founder of the Peeke Performance Center and renowned nutrition and fitness expert, and Michelle King Robson, leading women's advocate, cut through the confusion and share the naked, bottom line truth about all things woman. It's HER Radio.
PAM: Hi there. I'm Dr. Pam Peeke. Michelle's off today. Okay. Inappropriate versus appropriate touching. Are you crossing the line? Oh, the headlines are just full of this every single day. People being sued and all kinds of harassment. Good grief! You don't know what to do.
Needless to say, Dr. Gail Gross does know what to do. She's going to help us understand the difference between inappropriate and appropriate touching. What's behind all of this? She's a nationally recognized family and child development expert, author and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today's complex problems.
You've seen her all over the media, most recently on The Doctors show. Her new book coming up will be Smart for Life and her website is DrGailGross.com.
Gail, welcome back to HER Radio. Such a great topic, huh? Oh, my.
G: Hi, Pam. Good morning. Thank you. Actually, I want to tell you that my latest book is going to be How to Build Your Baby's Brain and it's all about neuroscience.
P: Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me?
G: Yes. So, that's the newest one coming out.
P: Well, you have so many my head's spinning. I have whiplash. So, let's go to this place. What is inappropriate touching? What is it?
G: Well, you know, anything that makes your child feel uncomfortable is inappropriate and children are very instinctual and intuitive. They know when something doesn't feel right. The only thing is, they're easily manipulated by adults. So, what parents have to do is support children to trust their instincts. To tell you. Not keep a secret. Let you know when something doesn't feel right. Someone's done something that they feel uncomfortable with. Because if they go along with the predator, then they feel guilty because deep down, they know this isn't good for them. So, you have to give children the strategy. Teach them what is "no touch" and teach them how to advocate themselves. How to say "no touch" and how to stand up for themselves.
P: Right. Right.
G: Many times a predator will start kind of a seductive way but not touch the "non-touch" areas. Like, parents used to say anything that your bathing suit covered, that was area that couldn't be touched. But, many times, someone who's seductive will pat the head, then the neck, then the lips, then the shoulders and never get to the bathing suit area.
G: And, by the time they get there, it's like that frog in the boiling water, the children are just used to that person.
G: And, so they're seduced.
P: Well, Gail, you're talking about children and this is so terribly important that people hear this out there and they know how to message this to their children, at any age, quite frankly.
Let's flip to the workplace for a moment. Okay? You have people there who are huggers. People there who touch and I see the same kind of insidious thing happening again, don't you? Or, what is inappropriate in a workplace situation?
G: Well, again. It's really not too different. What makes you feel uncomfortable, that is wrong. If you are intuitively, instinctually uncomfortable, you have to be validated and trust that that is wrong for you. That's a good way to handle it. There are wonderful strategy words. "I don't feel comfortable with you doing that." "Please don't do that." "This is inappropriate for me." "I don't feel good about this." So, these are words and phrases that you can practice and rehearse so that when something happens, you instinctively use those words, use those phrases rather than be shocked, taken off guard and say nothing which then gives the person, in a sense, an inner permission to go forward and do something again or do something more aggressive. So, you have to think ahead, have a strategy.
Plan, practice and rehearse so that when these things...You know, whenever you're in an argument or somebody does something inappropriate and you always say, "Oh, I wish I had thought of... I wish I had said," but if you practice and rehearse these things ahead of time...I used to do this with my children at home. I would give them things to say under certain circumstances so that when these things came up, they didn't have to think about it. It was reactive.
P: Oh, I love that. I love that.
D: And, with little children, you want to use basic language. Things that they can understand and you want to label things what they are. Call a thing by its name. A vagina is a vagina. A penis is a penis. Children don't have to feel uncomfortable with using correct names. That's really quite healthy.
D: They don't have to feel like there's anything wrong or dirty.
D: Those are the correct medical names for those parts of our bodies and children should be comfortable with those names.
P: Well, can I ask you a question, then? Gail, if you're in the work place, I'm going kind of flip back to that again in a moment.
P: What would constitute...You said it's sort of the same rules and everything, but there are power things going on there, too, that are kind of unique and interesting. You've got a boss or you've got someone who has a lot of control over your paycheck and other things and back and forth. You've got people who get a little sloppy drunk at office events and get togethers and dinners and stuff and all of a sudden, you see this come out again. So, give us the rules of the road for that.
D: So, that's why you have to practice and rehearse ahead of time. There are many benign ways of making a boundary and that's what this is about. Making your boundary. What is inappropriate for you. So, there are things that you can think about ahead of time so that when they come, you put your hand up, push somebody back. Or, you don't have to touch a person, but you just put your hand up, which is "stop" in any language and you just say, "You know, I don't feel comfortable with your doing that," or "that's inappropriate" and you practice and rehearse these things. It's not what you say, but how you say it.
So, if you say it in a neutral way, not in a hysterical way or not in a submissive way, but just in a neutral way. Make believe you're a school teacher and just practice and rehearse neutral language, then you can stay out of trouble and you don't hurt somebody's feelings because you've done it in a neutral way and you've just set up a boundary. So, again, not what you say, but how you say it.
P: Right. Well, Gail, I think that you and I as professional women, and I know for sure, Michelle, have been in situations where we kind of know we've got like a groper in the group, as we say, and someone who just does that. It could be someone who's from a different culture. It could be just someone who's gotten away with it for years.
I think your idea of just already knowing, preparing in advance, not being hysterical, doing the neutral approach and just keeping everything calm is incredibly helpful because, you know, whether you're a child or, in this case, we're looking at the workplace where, you know, headlines are filled with now people accusing one another of sexual harassment and overtouching and all the rest of it, I think it's really important to have rules of the road.
The most important thing I've gotten out of listening to you and your expertise is sitting down and being prepared, having sort of a monologue ready to go. In my case, I also use body language. I'll actually step back. You know, someone starts in with grabbing me around the waist thing or touching me. I step back and then, in a very neutral tone, if I have to say something.
So, I just love all of this. This has really helped us understand the difference between inappropriate versus appropriate touching and when you are actually crossing the line.
G: Let me just...
P: Gail, hold on a second. I want to make sure everyone out there knows your book title. That's Smart for Life and the website is DrGailGross.com
Dr. Gross, thank you for being on HER Radio. We so thank you for your expertise, advice and wisdom. I'm Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.
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